One of the key sectors and a potential game-changer for the Kashmir economy is Tourism. But the situation at hand in South Kashmir and the simmering discontent quietly spreading across central and north Kashmir has taken a toll on this sector this year, again.
In normal circumstances, the tourist who, after paying obeisance at Vaishno Devi Ji Shrine, didn’t mind going to Pahalgam and Srinagar for a day or two is feeling insecure to travel, to use the national highway in order to reach these destinations, given the prevailing situation.
Similar is the case with those tourists who would come from different parts of the country and fan out into Gulmarg, Sonmarg, Yusmarg, Mughal Gardens and other tourist attractions in the Valley. Fear is palpable in Kashmir but it has resulted in great losses especially to the hoteliers, transporters, houseboat owners and other stakeholders in this once booming industry.
The civilian uprising last year cast a shadow on this year as well. As tourist rush poured into the Valley from air and Jawahar Tunnel has thinned out, the domestic tourists too are confined to their homes, mainly due to Ramzan, but also due to the incidents linked to insurgency happening day in and day out.
While the tense situation offers no sign of hope, people in the industry are looking at an uncertain future. Many are in distress due to piling up of interest on their bank loans which they have obtained over a period of time to create all kinds of infrastructure for the tourists.
In this context, the government has failed in its strategy. Not only has it failed to contain the Delhi-based media which has waged an all-out war on Kashmir and Kashmiris, it’s publicity campaigns across the country, and even outside, have done nothing or little to change the prevailing, negative perception of Kashmir.
The state government needs to pull up its socks before it’s too late and take measures which could help change the perception and thus facilitate smooth visit of tourists to the valley. One way will be to showcase the treasures we have through media campaigns and offer attractive packages through leading market players.
A big hurdle in the visit of tourists are the very high airfares. The issue must be raised by the J&K government with the concerned ministry and airline operators to put in place some sort of an arrangement which has recently been done in case of Himachal Pradesh so that fixed and appropriate rates are there and the tourist do not feel fleeced by the air operators.
Maintenance of law and order, however, remains the top most factors in discouraging tourists from visiting the Valley. What to do with it? Recently we have seen protests breaking out in south Kashmir. Now, North is also on boil following the killing of two militants in Sopore. The BJP-led Centre had ruled out any reprieve in near future. There will be no talks and the Hurriyat “won’t beg for talks”.
Caught between the devil and deep sea, the cost of Kashmir’s deepening political crisis is borne in equal measure by the Tourism industry and thousands of people of Kashmir associated with it, as also by victims of excesses. Amid the “battle of ideas”, the real tragedy is no one seems to be concerned about their plight.